I won’t bore you with a sob story about my life, but I will let you know that as a 25-year-old woman, I can firmly say I’ve been through it all. I’m not the type to ask for a pity party, but get close enough to me and I’ll open up about the obstacles I’ve faced. I always get the same stunned reactions because looking at me, you’d never know. I attack every day with a smile. Tattoos are my way of telling my story without having to say anything, unless of course, you ask.
I can’t even remember when I made the decision that I wanted a tattoo, but I must have been young because I can’t recall a time where I didn’t think tattoos were cool. I was the little girl who would draw armbands and Chinese characters on my arm to look like Sporty Spice, and spend my allowance on butterfly temporary tattoos. At 15, I was working at the Rogers Centre, thinking I was raking in big dollars. The world was my oyster. I didn’t have any bills to pay so every time that $500 direct deposit hit on a Friday, I would plan what new outfit I would buy or where my metropass would bring me.
Spontaneously, I ended up in a tattoo parlour with my girlfriend, describing the tattoo I wanted (‘Ramos’, in cursive writing) across my right hip. This was the tattoo I planned in my head for months. After losing both my grandparents, Ramos, my mother’s maiden name and half my surname, was all I had left to connect me to them. After an hour of what felt like a cat clawing at my muffin top, it was done. I don’t know what I was thinking walking into a tattoo parlour off Yonge Street that didn’t ask for ID but I’d like to think that since that day, I’ve grown along with my expanding tattoo. The flowers surrounding my last name are the birth flowers of my loved ones. Towards the bottom are: Roses for my grandmother (June) and Gladiolus for my grandfather (August). The flowers on the top are Chrysanthemums for my oldest daughter, Story (November). You may notice that her flowers haven’t been shaded in. I found out I was going to give Story a little sister after finishing my first tattoo session, and just haven’t found the time go back to complete it. I told myself that when I finally make time for it, I’d have to add in flowers for my youngest daughter (Rhyme) too.
Sub Umbra Floreo
I met someone when I was 19, and just like you, reading this article, I was fascinated by tattoos and their meanings. Being nosey myself, I asked for the meaning of theirs. He was covered in tattoos, but the one that stood out to me most was the coat of arms on his abdomen. He went on to tell me about the country he was from, Belize. He had gotten his tattoo to commemorate his culture and his family. Beneath their coat of arms are the words “Sub Umbra Floreo”, which is latin for “Under the shade, I flourish”. The adage stuck with me. It reminded me so much of one of my favorite poems, “The Rose that Grew From Concrete” by Tupac Shakur, which is why I chose to have a small lotus flower, that represents perseverance,tattooed beside it. (Fun fact: Lotus flowers are born at the bottom of ponds and push through the mud and water to blossom on the pond’s surface.)
When I met this man, I was fresh out of a physically and mentally abusive relationship, I was having issues at home, and I just made the decision to switch majors in university. I had to constantly remind myself that this would make me stronger. Hearing the words “Under the shade, I flourish” put all my obstacles into a new perspective. I chose to have it tattooed on my collarbone so that I would see it each time I looked at myself in the mirror.
At 25, I like to think I’m equally spontaneous as the 15 year old that got an illegal tattoo. On my most recent trip, I made it a point to get a tattoo in my most favorite city, New York. I’ve been searching for the perfect symbol to represent my greatest accomplishment: motherhood. My best friend’s fascination with elephants brought me to spend time watching documentaries and reading up on them. I discovered that elephants spend their entire life devoted to their kin and bond between mother and child is virtually unbreakable. Although I know that humans don’t parent their young quite the same, and eventually my babies will leave their nest, I’ve accepted that I will be the mother who calls their 40-year-old daughter to remind them to eat their vegetables and wear sunscreen. Elephants are naturally nurturing and known to help other animals when in need. I’ve always been told prior to having children that I was “such a mommy.” I’m always worrying about the people around me, ensuring that everyone is happy and well fed. The elephant is a symbol of my strength as a single mother raising two young girls. Just like the animal, I have tough skin. Upon first impression, I may intimidate you but when it comes to my loved ones, especially my daughters Story and Rhyme, I will show a compassionate and nurturing side. The detailing on the elephant favours henna tattoos, representing my Indian heritage. Although I was raised by my mother and identify with the Filipino culture thoroughly, I still recognize that I can credit my physical appearance and love for curry to my father’s genetics.
I could choose to represent myself through my clothes, my music or my choice of friends, but it’s not the same. Going through the physical pain and commitment for each tattoo brings me closer to myself. It’s like a security blanket. Underneath layers of clothing, I know they’re still there. They always will be, continually reminding me of who I was at different points in my life. People may not fully understand why I do it, but they don’t need to. None of my tattoos are visible when you’re sitting across the table from me, but I didn’t get them for you, I got them for myself.